Website accessibility has been an important issue for almost 20 years, but has recently come into the spotlight due to the increasing necessity of the internet. It's obvious why companies should make their websites and apps accessible to people with disabilities from a moral perspective and the economic and legal drivers are becoming clearer every day. Yet despite these strong imperatives, experts predict that 85% of websites globally are still not accessible enough.
Why Companies Struggle with Digital Accessibility
We've found that many companies seem to be taking steps towards addressing accessibility, but their digital experiences aren't reflecting their investment. Brands continue to struggle to determine and implement an effective strategy for website and app accessibility, but why is that?
After working with hundreds of brands in all major industries, we've narrowed down the common causes for strategies falling short:
- Mindset: digital accessibility is being thought of as a quick fix, rather than an on-going initiative.
- Resources: insufficient testing tools are being used, providing false positives and impeding the identification of true issues.
- Expertise: digital teams aren't properly informed and trained on the techniques required to address accessibility in their roles.
Often times, companies pay for auditing, fix all issues identified, but shortly find themselves back at square one after making changes to their digital experience. They are failing to consider accessibility as an on-going initiative. If you don't have the tools and processes in place for ensuring accessibility as you continuously improve your digital experience, accessibility issues will persist, forcing you to backtrack when push comes to shove. This retroactive approach impedes digital innovation, increases development costs and extends delivery timelines.
The key to an effective digital accessibility strategy is to fully integrate accessibility into each phase of your development lifecycle.
Integrating Accessibility Into Your Development Lifecycle
Companies that have embraced accessibility as a component of their design, development and quality testing processes, such as American Airlines and Chase Bank, continue to win awards for innovation and customer experience, while providing digital access to all users, regardless of abilities.
Integrating accessibility principles into every aspect of your digital operations is not hard, but takes commitment, constant communication and a sound strategy.
Assuming that you've audited your website and have fixed all current issues, let's walk-through how each role, involved in creating and maintaining your digital experience, is impacted by accessibility and how you can achieve on-going compliance with the proper tools and strategy.
Design & UX
The first phase of the development lifecycle is design and UX conception. When companies consider accessibility at this stage it sets a strong foundation for their overall strategy. If website or app updates are not designed with inclusive design principles in mind, it will undoubtedly create more obstacles later on. The following actions will set you up for a successful approach to accessibility:
Educate your UX and design teams on the importance of digital accessibility and train them on the key concepts of designing an accessible interface. These core principles are detailed by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA) and are:
- Perceivable: information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable: user interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Understandable: information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.
- Robust: content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
When your team has a strong understanding of these core principles, it's wise to conduct an accessibility UX review on upcoming wireframes and prototypes. This is a good way for your design team to learn how these key concepts are applied to your website (or app) and to update your internal usability guidelines.
Once properly trained, an effective method of connecting theory to practice is having your teams observe user testing by real users of assistive technology, or at least have them analyze the results. This activity will highlight any issues your initial tests may have missed, as well as instill a greater sense of empathy that should be driving this initiative.
Now that you have a strong foundation for your accessibility strategy, let's move along to the next phase of the lifecycle.
Developers typically have the hardest time with accessibility. They need specific expertise to know how to resolve accessibility issues within code that is resulting in inaccessible page elements. This requires extensive accessibility training on the techniques for following the WCAG 2.0 AA or leveraging accessibility experts for guidance on coding options.
In terms of being able to identify the issues that need fixing, it's essential that development teams have sufficient testing tools integrated into the developer environment, such as a Chrome Extension for testing accessibility locally on online code as well as code being developed. It's best practice to integrate your accessibility testing tools with your release management solution, such as Jenkins, to have accessibility testing as part of your current release management process.
Many developers resort to using free online testing tools, but find themselves putting in double the work and still struggling to maintain compliance. These tools are inconvenient and often provide false positives, which is why they ultimately are not worth it. For agile development cycles, developers need sufficient tools and streamlined technical support to efficiently maintain accessibility.
Once your updates have been designed and developed in accordance to set accessibility requirements, it's time to test for quality.
Accessibility testing is no different from the other types of testing required for quality assurance – testing a digital experience to check it is fit for a certain purpose and that the developers followed the proper guidelines and requirements.
Similar to the other digital roles already discussed, the preliminary steps for integrating accessibility into your QA testing process is to educate. Review where to include accessibility testing in the development lifecycle and how to validate that all principles of the WCAG 2.0 AA are satisfied.
In terms of tools, your QA team should have access to the same accessibility testing tools as your developers. It’s important for your QA team to easily show your developers where and what issues were identified, so creating an avenue of communication between these two teams is essential for maintaining delivery timelines.
MANAGEMENT, COMPLIANCE and Legal
The last element to fully integrate accessibility into your development lifecycle is compliance reporting for management teams, compliance officers and legal counsel. These teams need a way to know where your digital experience stands in terms of compliance at all times. The efforts of all teams involved in accessibility testing and issue remediation should be centrally tracked, providing full transparency to management and making it easy to report on progression and the status' of all development stages.
For compliance and legal teams, you should be able to quickly generate and provide simple statements indicating your current level of compliance by WCAG 2.0 AA and your project timeline.
For many, Accessibility is becoming a priority similar to security, with both legal and user driven need for addressing it. Similar to security, many companies look to hire a subject matter expert that provide services and technology to support the development lifecycle.
USABLENET AQA: Our ACCESSIBILITY TESTING INTEGRATION PLATFORM
UsableNet has developed an accessibility management platform specifically for easily integrating accessibility testing, remediation and reporting into the development lifecycle. UsableNet AQA is an easy-to-use platform, created to streamline accessibility project management and communication for all teams involved in the development lifecycle: UX Designers, Developers, Project Managers and QA professionals.